Bret Harte’s short stories really captured the realism of frontier life. His main characters relate to people in later western novels and supporting actors in movies. Among his most famous stories is Luck of Roaring Camp.The town was the usual collection of miners’ shacks, a grocery store, and saloons. Roaring Camp laid in a triangular valley, between two hills and a river. The inhabitants were all men, except for Cherokee Sal, who “serviced” the men as needed. These people in Roaring Camp were either fugitives, criminals, or prospectors. All were searching for gold and and often became reckless. Working all day and the frustration of finding nothing often causes this.
One evening Cherokee Sal was giving birth to a child. Stumpy, rumored to have two families elsewhere, helped deliver boy. Whether owing to the crudeness of the operation or some other reason, Cherokee Sal died a few hours later. Stumpy quite ingeniously used milk from a nursing donkey to feed the child. The men in Roaring Camp were saddened to lose Cherokee Sal and gave her the proper wake. Now they realized that they had a child on their hands. No one knew who the father was. Almost each miner suspected himself.
The prospectors, gamblers, and the store owners took turns babysitting each day. All of them regularly contributed money according to their means. No where did Harte state that there was an assessment on anyone. The townspeople began to import by carrier better food and clothing for the baby and themselves. Some miners took the child to the diggings, left him in the shade, and checked on him at regular intervals. The men bathed and changed clothes often on a daily basis. Before that Harte stated they changed clothes like a snake shedding skin. They cleaned up their shacks to look much cleaner though still quite primitive. The General Store owner bought a carpet and a wider variety of dry goods.
While gambling and drinking continued, both greatly curtailed. This could have been out out of economic necessity. Supporting a child meant less money for virtually everything else. I personally would like to think the men did not want to gamble and drink merely because a baby boy was there. Mr. John Oakhurst, a noted gambler, said that the baby was the luckiest thing that ever happened to Roaring Camp; hence the people named him Luck.The citizens of Roaring Camp made some plans to attract new people to their town. They wanted to build an economic base for the town beyond gold.
Many camps, as everyone knows, become Ghost Towns with no further veins or finding nothing at all. The men wanted to attract families hopefully to adopt Luck as full time parents. All of them loved the baby and Luck sure brought the town together. In spite of this, they recognized only full time parents could provide the best environment. At this time, Luck was not quite one year old. Then tragedy struck the Roaring Camp as a sleet and snow storm struck the town in November. Rivers swelled pulling away trees and miners shacks. Among these shacks was Kentuck’s whose turn it was to babysit Luck. People far downstream struggled to pull Kentuck out of the water. By the time they did, Kentuck was dying gasping for breath from drowning and badly injured by falling debris. Kentuck though was holding Luck who was already dead. As John Steinbeck said in his later novel whether through the economic system, acts of nature, or the cruelty of men to each other, the best laid plans Of Mice and Men are often never realized. Kentuck might have saved himself by quickly leaving the shack but chose to remain with the baby.
What this short story shows is the responsibility we all have for Child Heath and Protection. At the risk of being repetitious, children’s issues are like two concentric circles. In that outer area we all are generic parents and every child is ours. The inner circle is strictly for real parents, their children, teachers, and any other professional help.